vegetable patch management
mulch
mulching materials Page 1.
There are a huge range of mulching materials that are available for the home gardener. The key factors in determining what is best for your garden are cost, quality and availability. Below are listed mulching materials that I use or have used. It is by no means a complete list of all mulches available. The best thing for you to do is to speak to experienced gardeners in your area and see what they use. But in the mean time this list might give you some ideas.

straw
Bales of straw is the mulch that I used the most  in my garden, though I do process it via my deep litter chicken run to break it down, add nutrients (chicken poo) and remove weed seeds.  See the Processing Mulch page for details.

advantages
  • Fairly cheap.
  • Contains fewer weed seeds than hay or pea straw.
disadvantages
  • Relatively low in nutrient value.
  • Still cost money, where as stable sweepings can usually be obtained for nothing.
  • It is fairly hard on the hands when handling it without gloves.
The easiest way to buy straw is from  a stock and station store. However the cheapest way is to get it directly from a farm, especially if it is rain damaged straw, which is actually an advantage to gardeners as the breaking down process has already begun.

hay
While more nutritional than straw it is also more costly and likely to contain more weed seeds.  It is a mulch that I only use occasionally.


advantages
  • Contains more nutrients than straw.
Disadvantages
  • More expensive than straw.
  • Usually contains more weed seeds.


Pea straw
Pea straw is dried pea bushes after the pea crop has been harvested. It is the second most common mulch material I use.

advantages
  • As pea straw is a nitrogen fixing plant pea straw mulch is much richer in nitrogen than straw or hay.
  • cheaper than lucerne, the only other nitrogen fixing plant that's readily available as a mulch.
Disadvantages
  • More expensive than straw.
  • As well as containing weed seeds it also comes with some residue pea seeds that readily sprout. 
  • Has a very course texture, which can be hard on the hands.
  • The irregular leaves of pea straw plants bind the straw quite firmly together, making it much harder to spread than straw or hay.

stable sweepings
Stable sweepings is mainly made up of straw used for horse bedding in stables, though it may also contain some scraps of hay and chaff.  It also contains plenty of horse manure.

advantages
  • As it is considered in the horse industry as a waste product you can usually get it for free.
  • Is quite rich in nitrogen because of the horse manure an urine in it.

Disadvantages
  • The horse manure in the stable sweepings has lots of weed seeds as such seeds are not killed when they pass through a horse's digestive system.
  • Often comes with contaminates such as mulched up recycled plastic, tape and even the odd syringe.
In the past I used to use stable sweepings a lot, but in doing so I inadvertently introduced a number of nasty weeds to my garden.  So these days I mainly stick to straw and pea straw that has been processed through the chicken run.

sugar cane mulch
photo of a plastic wrapped bale of sugarcane mulch.
Plastic wrapped bail of sugarcane mulch.

Photo of sugar cane mulch
Close up of of sugarcane mulch.
It is fairly new product on the market in Australia and is probably not available in most other countries.

advantages
  • Contains no weed seeds, a very big plus as most other mulches contain at least some weed seeds.
  • Is soft to touch and is of a uniform texture, which makes it easy to spread.
  • Takes a reasonably long time to break down, though not as long as straw.

disadvantages
  • Sold wrapped in plastic, which is not very environmentally friendly.
  • Comes from Queensland in the North of Australia, which means that to get to gardeners in Victoria (in the South of the country), the mulch is transported many hundreds of kilometres.  The bigger the distance it has to travel the less environmentally friendly it is.

  • It is quite expensive when compared to most other mulches available.

Because of the disadvantages listed above I was pretty sceptical about it as a useful mulch, however I now use it in small amounts as backup when short of my chicken run processed mulch.  I also use it in my pot plants as  it's fine texture and short length make it an ideal mulch for pots.